Block after block, no matter what part of the city you stumble upon, quintessential Parisian cafés are ready to welcome you with open arms and your choice of caffeine or a cocktail. A significant piece of Parisian culture is taking a seat on a terrace, facing the haussmanien buildings across the street, sipping on some coffee, maybe munching on a croissant, and watching the world around you continue go by, even while you are taking a rest.
Breakfast, lunch, apéro, dinner, or drinks. Cafés on every corner are ready for you. Menus are full of favorites for any occasion, but there is nothing more classic than a simple café at a café. Any Americans should be advised that a “café” is a bitter espresso, while a “café allongé” or a “café américano” might better fit your expectations. Add crème and sucre for an added effect, but don’t even attempt to order an iced coffee outside of a Starbucks.
And then, of course, there’s the food. A croque madame with frites and salade for lunch, or maybe a dish of coq au vin or boeuf bourgignon for dinner. These classic French dishes have withstood decades for a reason.
My favorite part about a morning, afternoon, or evening at a café? People-watching. Busy streets are packed with shoppers, students, parents, and more. Calmer streets allow you to dive deeper into passerby’s’ stories. No matter where you land or what type of food is served, French cafés always offer this integral piece of the experience.
As I lounge around on the terrace of La Maison Blanche, directly across from Gare du Nord, I feel a chilly breeze and smell aromas of salmon tagliatelle, fries, and grilled meats of all sorts. My server comes up behind me with a hot plate full of de la bouffe and lets out an enthusiastic “Bon appétit!” In this moment, I am perfectly content.
Coffee shops, restaurants, and diners in the United States will never quite live up to the French café standard. The ability to take your time, breathe, and enjoy your day with all of your senses (especially taste) on nearly any street in Paris provides tourists and locals alike with an experience that has been, and forever will be, so engrained in Parisian culture.
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